By Lawrence A. Gamble, P.E. (this article is available on the web at


“We are charged with designing the future, not being victims of it” - R. Buckminster Fuller I was listening to a public radio show about energy recently, and one of the guests (Vijay Vaitheeswaran, energy editor for The Economist magazine) said that it is a mistake for the environmental community use the disaster surrounding hurricane Katrina to tut-tut the American public into guilt about energy use. His message was this will surely fail – it would be much better instead to present a bold new positive vision for an energy policy based on renewables. This is my attempt to sketch out a bold new energy plan for Fairfield. As Cedar Falls city councilor, UNI professor, and local foods activist/guru Kamyar Enshayan pointed out at the 2005 Iowa Renewable Energy Association annual conference, there is much that can be done at

500 homes and businesses. only 1/3 of the energy in the fuel is turned into electricity and 2/3 is wasted as low temperature heat. transportation. made a concerted effort to use energy wisely. Iowa.5-3 million/yr Land area needed to produce crop: 5200 acres Jefferson County land area: 261. commerce.000 acres Wise use of energy – Cities could assist residents in using energy more wisely. and industry. and how we make our livelihoods. that compliments and extends the efforts of individuals to use energy wisely and convert to renewables. or to heat greenhouses to grow warm season crops in the winter. and give a big boost to the local economy. and could be profitably saved without a decrease in the level of comfort the energy provides. They used about 1200 kwh initially. Taken together.000. A 10 megawatt switchgrass plant (the Ottumwa coal plant is 700 megawatts) could supply all the residential electrical energy needs of Jefferson county and would have these characteristics: Annual energy produced: 75 million kilowatt-hours (kwh) % of Jefferson County residential energy requirement: 100% of current usage Heat produced: equivalent to 5. Denmark burns baled straw (energy plus more money for local farmers) to provide electricity. they represent a whole new economic base for rural America. water. At least this much is also spent to fuel commerce and industry. and after . how we deal with wastes. you still get hot showers and cold beer. heat. In Iowa. Generating electricity and capturing the waste heat is called cogeneration or CHP (combined heat and power). The local-vs-global economy ideas in this article could be applied to food. without reducing quality of life. Most of this energy is wasted. buy electricity.000 gallons of oil Cost to build:$15-20 million Amount paid to local farmers for fuel: $2. the materials and design we use to make our buildings. This waste heat can be utilized to heat and cool homes (think gas refrigerator). the Isbell family in Vinton. both in the design of cities and in public policy. and hot water for 12. often with a 70-90% reduction in use of electricity.the city level. As an example. oil. Most of this money leaves the state soon after it is spent. switchgrass is a native perennial prairie plant that has been burned to supplement coal at Alliant Energy’s Ottumwa Coal Plant. Iowans spend about 6 billion dollars a year to heat and cool their homes. (97 percent of the electricity we use in Iowa comes from out-of-state coal. The average home uses 1000 kwh of electricity per month. A cogeneration plant located in Sakskobing. and nuclear fuels) Here are some things we could do at the city level to keep more of these dollars circulating in our local economies: Cogeneration – When fuel is burned to make electricity. and fuel their cars. Implementing these ideas make a city more self reliant and locally dependent. With wise use of energy. heat hot water.

then the energy that you saved can be made available to someone else. Every ten years that’s 12 million dollars added to the local economy. Energy efficiency can be viewed as a source of energy. Building a new factory to make energy efficient light bulbs is on the order of 1/10 to 1/100th the cost of building a new coal power plant to make the same amount of energy available.200. equivalent to $5 or $10 per barrel oil (the current price of oil is around $60 per barrel). If we use the savings generated by using energy wisely to build power plants that run on renewables. For a one-time investment of $250.000. The overall cost of making energy available through efficiency. If you cut your energy consumption. Wes Birdsall. is often less than one cent per kwh. then we would never have to build another fossil fuel power plant. He began looking on saving energy as an economic development strategy for his community of 3. realized one day that each dollar saved by residents was no different than a dollar brought into the community by a new business. the general manager of the Osage. It was then easy for them to switch to solar and wind energy to supply their modest needs. they used less than 100 kwh to provide the same or greater level of services. using a wide variety of off the shelf technologies. Osage residents and businesses save more than $1. with returns on the money invested as high as 75% (compared to 3% at a bank).600. This is far cheaper than coal at 4 -5 cents or even wind power at 3-5 cents. Iowa municipal electric company. Wind Power  . The cost of making energy available through efficiency improvements is much less that the cost of making electricity available by building new power plants.000 every year on energy bills.implementing common sense off-the-shelf efficiency measures like compact fluorescent light bulbs. The payback on these energy saving improvements ranged from immediate to several years.

000 or $1500 per household). and I wouldn’t be surprised if Iowa has more potential for wind power than Schleswig-Holstein. Jefferson County would need 19 1650 kw turbines (the Danish made with NEG-Micon NM-82. Wind power is currently the fastest growing source of electricity (and in most cases the cheapest) on the planet (Wind farms in NE Iowa sell power for 3 cents per kwh – in Fairfield. turbines in Fairfield would get about 20% less annual energy than Cerro Gordo county in north central Iowa. The population is 2. and on one day in that month wind energy provided 100% of the electrical energy used by the whole state.7 million people.000.000 (a one-time cost of$712 per household.000. but large wind machines could be sited on the edges of cities and the energy used to power the city or sold for profit. then we could slash the number of turbines required to 3. and the world leaders are in Germany and Denmark. at a cost of $4. a few large wind turbines provide the bulk of the electrical energy used by the residents. However. most of this energy is wasted. Some of these projects are financed by voluntary extra 1-2 cent per kwh payments by utility customers. we pay about 12 cents per kwh. with lots of row crop farming. There are 60.000. Excess wind energy will be stored as compressed air underground and converted back to electricity as needed. Eight Iowa public schools have installed large scale wind machines. One difference is that Schleswig-Holstein currently gets 18% of its yearly electrical needs from wind power (Iowa gets less than 2 % of it’s electricity from wind). is greater than much of the rest of the country. The state of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany is similar in many ways to Iowa. If we implemented off-the-shelf cost effective energy saving measures like the Isbell family mentioned earlier (at a cost of $9. with an 82 meter blade diameter on 165 foot towers was used in this example) at a cost of $25.000 ($4800 per household) to supply all of the annual residential electrical energy needs at the current average usage of 1000 kwh per month.) The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities is putting together a group of cities to build large scale energy storage so that wind generated energy could be available even if the wind isn’t blowing. Iowa has one of the best wind resources in the world.The best sites surrounded the city could be identified and fitted with wind turbines. They have been financed by a combination of local bank loans and the Iowa Energy Bank. while not the best in Iowa (for example. In February 2002. some costing as much as $800. about what many families spend per year on cell phone service).500. In many cities it is difficult to site small wind machines on individual homes. flat. In many villages in Denmark. similar to Iowa’s 2. There are also several municipal electric utilities in Iowa that have installed large scale wind. The wind potential in Fairfield.9 million.000 people employed in the wind power industry in Europe.rural. More local economic benefit could be gained by getting wind turbine manufacturers to set . which has one of the best wind energy resources in the US). and the turbines are owned by the retirees of the village and provide retirement income. the state got 50 % of its electricity from wind.

schools. for example) have even established municipal solar utilities to implement solar electric and hot water projects like this. Earle Mason of Habitat for Humanity in Mason City has designed and built a 1700 square foot residence that heats for $175 per year and doesn’t require air conditioning. Wisconsin. has money available to loan to projects like this at a discounted interest rate (about ½ the current rate). the pools.000. This $14. Energy efficient new construction – There are many examples of low cost.. or the city could issue low interest municipal bonds to finance a project like this.000 ($2000 per household) and at current interest rates would pay for itself in less than 10 years out of savings. Clipper Wind Power has announced that it will begin production of a new wind turbine in Cedar Rapids. the homes of John and Judy Salerno and Ken Walton in the Abundance Ecovillage have achieved this kind of performance. The cost for this kind of performance. and municipal facilities in Fairfield would be approximately $14. San Francisco recently issued more than a hundred million dollars of municipal bonds to finance solar electric systems in the city.000. is often less than $5. schools. We could encourage this kind of building with a “fee-bates”.000 investment would create lots of work installing and maintaining these systems. and then continue to provide essentially free hot water for an additional 10-20 years more. faced with severe flooding several times in this century. The Iowa Energy Bank.up shop in Iowa. Solar Hot Water – Getting hot water from the sun is often the most cost effective way to use solar energy. Solar hot water systems have proven themselves in Fairfield for more than 15 years. The city of Santa Clara California has had a solar utility program since 1975. We could have a program to fit homes. solar hot water panels are low tech and could be (and have been) built in shops all over Iowa. high performance buildings in Iowa that use little or no energy for heating and cooling. . restaurants – anywhere there is a demand for hot water – with solar hot water panels. moved the town out of the flood plain and rebuilt the whole town to utilize solar energy to heat buildings. yet cost little more to build than conventional buildings. car washes.000. I’ve participated in workshops where unskilled people build themselves a solar hot water system in a weekend. Production builder Perry Bigelow of Chicago has built thousands of homes with guaranteed less than $100 per year heating bills. The cost for fitting homes. Cities could use the incentive of an order of wind machines to entice turbine manufacturers to locate in their cities. Recently. Even more benefit could be gained from establishing a manufacturing facility for these systems. The town of Soldier’s Grove. 80 percent of the lifetime energy required to heat and cool a building is fixed by design decisions made in the first few hours of design. In Fairfield. There are many examples of US cities that have successful municipal solar programs. Cities could help with critical early design assistance. Other cities (Sacramento. In contrast to solar electric panels. California. which are high tech devices. if integrated into the design up front. funded by a tiny tax on utility bills. which could be as simple as training some of the existing metal fabrication shops in building these systems. where high performance homes get a rebate paid for by fees charged to high energy use homes. laundries.

Current electric vehicle range is 50-100 miles per charge.2 units of fossil energy are used to make cellulosic ethanol. but “neat” alcohol cannot be mixed with gasoline. In Iowa. Innovative vehicle purchases could be encouraged by a “fee-bate” system. We could also redesign our cities on the scale of walking and biking. it would create a modest electric vehicle industry in Iowa.30 per gallon. There is some controversy about whether biofuels require more energy to produce than they contain. According to the US Department of Energy and the Rocky Mountain Institute. Range can be greatly extended if you can recharge everywhere you park. Ethanol can be made from a wide range of crops. and many cars come equipped with a special computer chip that allows use of up to 85% ethanol (e-85). for every one unit of energy available at the gas pump 1. Few in this debate mention that regular gasoline takes more energy to produce that it contains. and only 0.Transportation Redesigning our cities on the scale of people rather than cars would have a huge impact on the amount of energy used in transportation and an even greater impact on quality of life. A dozen or so Fairfield residents already use biodiesel or straight veggie oil (straight veggie oil can require vehicle modifications). We could also develop locally grown biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol. Cities can provide biofuel or electric public transportation solutions. towns like Fairfield are perfectly set up to use current technology electric vehicles. Any car can use the 10% ethanol blend found at most gas stations. Check to see if your car is a flex-fuel vehicle. which pays for a rebate given to those who purchase innovative vehicles. 0. and VW vehicles run on 100% ethanol. The enzymatic reduction hydrolosis method for ethanol production can produce ethanol at $1. and 50 miles could drive you around Fairfield all day long. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil (even waste oil from fast food can be used) and can be used in unmodified diesel vehicles. and construction equipment on locally produced ethanol and biodiesel. Engines run well on “neat” 180 proof alcohol. millions GM.23 units of fossil energy are used to produce gasoline.000 grants available for gas stations that install e-85 pumps. The simple answer is that biofuel production can be a net energy gainer. municipal vehicles. Ford. Fairfield has a great system of rural recreational trails – what if we had a similarly well-designed system of trails . Even without redesign. Electric vehicles would then be readily available for use by residents as “around town” cars. The state of Iowa has $25. where buyers of gas guzzling vehicles pay a fee. billions of gallons of gasoline are sold that contain ethanol. Cities can run their fleet of school buses. The use of 100% “neat” alcohol (alcohol that still contains a small amount of water) would greatly reduce cost and net energy. In Brazil.74 of fossil energy are used to produce corn-based ethanol. If cities in Iowa banded together and bought Iowa manufactured electric vehicles for municipal use.

even in cold rainy northern countries like Denmark. How about free bikes for use in the downtown Fairfield? They could be obtained from the large number of bikes that the police department accumulates every year. making transport by bike more convenient than by car? In some cities in Europe. and make our communities more interesting places to live. and capture and use the run off from urban areas.000 spent on feasibility and preliminary design work could yield millions of dollars in benefits to the city. creates local jobs. and 30 degrees cooler than the Walmart parking lot? This would reduce cooling bills. Wisconsin and Grinnell College have in common? They both have free bike programs. Germany. Designers like Wayne Petersen with Soil and Water Conservation Service and organizations like Iowa based Trees Forever could help make this happen. reduce our dependence on oil.$10. We could integrate more trees into our public urban spaces. The statistics and analysis presented here are rough and backof-the-envelope. increase comfort. What if the square and the roads surrounding it were always 20 degrees cooler in the summer than the rest of the city. Over the next decade. and the city rents bikes for in-town trips at very low rates.within the city. The next step for Fairfield would be to fund detailed feasibility studies of some of these ideas . I continue to be surprised that some enterprising politician has not brought forth a bold new vision for rural America based on these ideas. Why not spend these dollars on energy that is and keeps money in the community? I believe that this vision of a more locally dependent and self-reliant city has great appeal to both liberals and conservatives. This article originally appeared in the Iowa Source and is available on the web at http://www.html) . What do Madison. This article gives you a flavor of what could be done at the city level to save energy. and Sweden. and increase business in the downtown. increase our dependence on the sun. hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent in Jefferson County on energy.iowasource. The mayor of Paris recently announced a goal of eliminating cars from the center of Paris. bikes account for 40% of all trips within the city.

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